Anzac Humour

Filed in Archive, Blog, Uncategorized by on April 22, 2015 1 Comment

1915 Medal for Monty-web

An unwritten law in Australia and New Zealand is “Don’t make jokes about the Anzacs.” You can make jokes about almost anything except the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Particularly on the centenary of their ill-fated storming of Gallipoli in Turkey on 25 April 1915.

Likewise, corporations are not allowed to exploit the Anzac “brand”. Companies ranging from Woolworths to the Church of Scientology have recently learned this. The Veterans Affairs Department has also blocked dozens of applicants wanting to sell merchandise that included Anzac-branded bottles of port and stubby buddies.

However, it is okay to participate in the sleep-out events around Australia on 24 April called “Camp Gallipoli” (not in the gay sense, and not that there would be anything wrong with that), which include live performances by rock stars.

Maybe this is a good time to say something about the humour of the Anzacs themselves, to help those patriots wrapped in flag capes not take themselves too seriously.

During the 1990s Australians seemed to lose their sense of humour about tragic events. Until then, you’d expect dark jokes to break out moments after a tragedy made the news. Even without social media, the gags would circulate almost faster than a fart in a phone box.

One of the last I remember was in 1987. It followed a shooting spree that killed seven innocent people and wounded 19 others in Hoddle Street, Clifton Hill, an inner suburb of Melbourne. Anyone directly connected with this massacre would have rightly been appalled by: “What’s the fastest way to get to Clifton Hill? Just shoot up Hoddle Street.” And other jokes in this vein, which I won’t repeat here.

Doug Crabbe was the butt of jokes after he murdered five people by crashing his truck into a motel bar in 1983, Lindy Chamberlain copped it when her baby was stolen by a dingo in 1980, and one of the earliest I remember was in the 1970s following a light plane crash into a family home that led to gags about the shortest runway in Essendon. You get the idea.

Why have these jokes – and this is not a complaint, just an observation – either disappeared or stopped circulating? (There were certainly no jokes about last December’s Lindt Cafe siege that I heard.) Some people might point to political correctness, others to growing conservatism, or perhaps it was the outrageous slaughter in 1995 at Port Arthur in Tasmania that took the wind out of this style of humour.

I’m not going to defend any of the above jokes. They are dark and especially abhorrent to those directly connected with the events.

But I do want to point out that Australians have a history of using dark humour to cope with adversity. As an example I’d like to quote what one Anzac soldier called out to the Turks after a series of particularly bloody clashes at Gallipoli on 19 May 1915: “Play you again next Saturday.”

This crack is quoted in Alan Moorehead’s classic 1956 book Gallipoli, and repeated in the TV documentary Gallipoli Revealed (2005). The Turkish historian in Gallipoli Revealed shows his disgust at this quip, which seems to defy his belief, with an insinuation that Australian soldiers were sub-human by their apparent lack of regard for the sanctity of life.

I wonder if my great uncle Monty Parish heard this line before he died from wounds at Gallipoli that May. (That’s his commemorative medal pictured above, which the Commonwealth Government posted us a few years back.) If he did, I’d wager this dark humour bolstered Monty’s spirits and gave him one of his last laughs. Would that be sub-human or a defensive way of coping with tragedy that doesn’t fit with 21st-century attitudes?

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  1. Myself and I says:

    Well said. I believe that ANZAC day in Australia, provided that it doesn’t directly insult their legacy, is a day just as important to find the humour when times are bleak.

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